Appearance and Reality

All things being equal, our common sense notions of the world in which we exist can be said to represent a version of reality that is reasonably reliable as a general standard for determining our individual status within it. In spite of the fact that our perceptions of the world are a product of a singularly deceptive process of data streaming in through our sensory receptors and interpreted by our cognitive apparatus, which often only approximates what it sees, for the most part, our perceptual system of sensory data accumulation and interpretation allows us a fair degree of functional unanimity as humans.

Intellectually, we realize that the table is not actually “solid,” but rather, made up of tiny, fleeting and fluctuating accretions of molecular structures and subatomic nothingness. We nonetheless perceive it as solid and, functionally speaking, this perception allows us to confidently place our equally non-solid molecular structures which compose our tableware, so that they appear to rest upon the table, and we are thus able to enjoy a meal, with our elbows planted (we think) firmly on its edge.

We watch the latest blockbuster movie at the local cinema, knowing full well that what appears to be giant blue people soaring through the air on colorful flying creatures, is really only a series of still photographs passed between a light and a lens so quickly, that the images only appear to be a continuous flow of action on a distant alien planet. As these technologies advance, the line between appearance and reality begins to blur even more.

When we gaze out at the distant stars in the sky, many of which are hundreds and thousands of light years away from the earth, we know that the light we are seeing is hundreds and thousands of years old, and only represents what those stars looked like all those many years ago. If one of them explodes, we won’t perceive its destruction for a very long time afterwards.

And yet, these appearances suffice to allow us a general sense of temporal reality, from which we can make, what we feel are, reasonable conclusions regarding the nature of the world. Since our brains have evolved adequately to provide us with a higher functional degree of cognitive ability, relative to all other known species, we have been aware that we exist. The ability to think, to remember what we think, and to express what we think through language, combined to make it possible to achieve a degree of comprehension of the world in which the thinking occurs. While determining a course of action based on a comprehensive review of our thinking, our mind’s perception makes our awareness seem like something that is just there. In fact, it was the long, arduous process of evolution that made it possible for our ancestors to steer themselves along the path that led to awareness.

But even with a highly advanced version of the cerebral cortex, it takes years to hone our skills and to gain sufficiently in knowledge and experience in order for us to make even the most basic interpretations accurately. If you ever have the opportunity to engage a three year old in a conversation about why its cold in the winter, you will immediately see just how challenging it can be to make sense of the world in which they exist, but even with only a nominal level of ability with language, they can begin to recall important information, and distinguish between what they perceive and feel with a fair amount of accuracy.

For most of us, our earliest memories of existing at all, occur around the age of three or four years, and even at this stage, we mostly can only recall snippets of events, and have only vague recollections that only improve with more years of life. What better analogy could there be, to think about the earliest inklings of consciousness in our ancestors, than that of the evolving brains from birth to self-aware child in our world today?

….more to come…..

2 thoughts on “Appearance and Reality

  1. each photo sent back from the Hubble amazes me, I always thought of space as black and white
    stars shooting through….the first picture that left an imprint on me was the one called God’s Eye…
    I was stunned by all the colors…I am not sure why I thought color was only here in this moment on earth….I probably asked at 4 and that was the easiest answer…
    I listen to my grandchildren’s conversation skills and I wonder if I was that curious, I know their intelligence far out reaches mine…
    Your post as always gives me pause to go back within a memory and be more curious…
    I always enjoy the flow of energy you write with…a truth that is your own, and never judgemental or pushy….
    what a great thought post to end my night on..
    Thank you John always a pleasure to wander within your space
    Take Care..
    (what a beautiful little girl..her smile is so bright!)

    1. What a lovely and generous comment! I am honored and delighted to receive such a heartwarming response! It is pleasing for me to know that you enjoy wandering around in this place, and if my posts inspire your curiosity, then I must be doing something right!. You are welcome anytime!

      That little girl is my granddaughter, Keira, who will be four this month. Conversation with her is always lively and often challenging. Her smile melts me into a puddle, and she knows just when to flash it. Our conversation about why the winter is cold only lasted a few minutes, because her attention quickly turned to exploring and running in order to get me to chase her.

      Your comment about color in the Hubble photos piqued MY curiosity, and I found this blurb on about how they get the color in the photos:

      Out of This Whirl: the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) and Companion Galaxy

      The colors in this image of a galaxy were chosen to simulate the colors that our eyes might see if we were able to visit it in a spacecraft.

      Representative color helps scientists visualize what would otherwise be invisible, such as the appearance of an object in infrared light.

      Enhancing the visible colors in an image often brings out an object’s subtle structural detail. Color in Hubble images is used to highlight interesting features of the celestial object being studied. It is added to the separate black-and-white exposures that are combined to make the final image. Creating color images out of the original black-and-white exposures is equal parts art and science.

      We use color:
      • To depict how an object might look to us if our eyes were as powerful as Hubble
      • To visualize features of an object that would ordinarily be invisible to the human eye
      • To bring out an object’s subtle details.

      Light from astronomical objects comes in a wide range of colors, each corresponding to a particular kind of electromagnetic wave. Hubble can detect all the visible wavelengths of light plus many more that are invisible to human eyes, such as ultraviolet and infrared light.

      Astronomical objects often look different in these different wavelengths of light. To record what an object looks like at a certain wavelength, Hubble uses special filters that allow only a certain range of light wavelengths through. Once the unwanted light has been filtered out, the remaining light is recorded.

      Hubble’s many filters allow it to record images in a variety of wavelengths of light. Since the cameras can detect light outside the visible light spectrum, the use of filters allows scientists to study “invisible” features of objects — those only visible in ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths.

      In the example above, the galaxy is represented in several different wavelengths. Hubble isolates these specific wavelengths using special filters. Choosing a particular filter reveals an image of the galaxy taken through that filter — that is, in a specific wavelength range. The finished image is actually a combination of all the filtered images.

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